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Microplastic hotspots on the deep seafloor: Investigating the role of seafloor currents in microplastic transport and accumulation

Project Description

Project Rationale:
There is growing concern about the impact of plastic pollution (particularly microplastics) on ocean ecosystems and human health[1]. Floating plastics are concentrated into the infamous subtropical “garbage patches” by surface currents[2]. These surface accumulations only account for <1% of the estimated marine budget of plastic, however, and most end up in the deep-sea[2]. In stark contrast to our knowledge of microplastics transport on land, by rivers to the ocean and on the ocean surface, we know very little about their transport pathways in the deep-sea[1,3]. Existing numerical models assume that microplastics settle vertically from the surface accumulations toward seafloor[2]; however, recent seafloor sampling indicates this is not the case[3]. Instead, plastics are focused within distinct physiographic settings; particularly submarine canyons, which are known conduits for seafloor currents and globally significant for particulate transport. So how are microplastics transported within submarine canyons and channels? What controls the location of microplastic hotspots, and do they correspond to macroplastic hotspots? Are microplastics effectively sequestered once buried or will they become remobilized? This project will address these questions and determine the physical process controls on microplastic transport and accumulation, using new sampling and monitoring datasets at two contrasting deep-sea sites (Congo and Whittard Canyons).

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibilty and how to apply


[1] Jambeck, J.R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T.R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R. and Law, K.L., 2015. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347(6223), pp.768-771.
[2] Koelmans, A.A., Kooi, M., Law, K.L. and Van Sebille, E., 2017. All is not lost: deriving a top-down mass budget of plastic at sea. Environmental Research Letters, 12(11), p.114028.
[3] Kane, I.A. and Clare, M.A., 2019. Dispersion, accumulation, and the ultimate fate of microplastics in deep-marine environments: a review and future directions. Frontiers in Earth Science, 7.

How good is research at University of Southampton in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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